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I'm an employed, self-taught application developer. Although I love development, I'm fairly bored. To offset this (and because I love to learn), I study advanced mathematics, physics, engineering and advanced topics in computer science, among other things. I'm grateful for the good job I have, it pays the bills and feeds my family, but I want to do more.

I'm very interested in the aerospace industry, but lack an engineering or computer science degree. I would like to develop software that aids in the design of aircraft, or software that contributes to the functionality or operation of an aircraft. I feel like I can hold my own during discussions of these topics, and also feel like I possess enough knowledge at this point to make a foray into the field.

I had a troubled youth. I'm married now with children, and have settled down, but I'm still fairly young. Again, I'm grateful to have a solid job where I can do what I love and get paid well, but I feel like the stupid decisions that I made during my youth, combined with my decision to actually learn computer programming instead of going to college have really smoked me, as far as career opportunities go.

Recently, I've been working on a jet engine design suite and test simulator using Haskell. Maybe if I finish this, I can show it to someone and get a job despite my lack of degree and troubled past? I can't unrealistically assume it would be worth much to a giant like Lockheed, but maybe they will think it is cool or something.

Is there anyone out there that can relate, and if so, were you able to miraculously able to finagle a way into this field, or another advanced field?

What can I do to make it in this industry? Do I need to enroll in college, or is there some sort of hack I can employ?

Are you an aerospace software engineer? What is this field like in reality? Need an intern?

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Define "troubled youth". –  Job Mar 25 '11 at 19:54
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would rather not, but no felonies :) –  Orbit Mar 25 '11 at 21:59
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5 Answers

I went back to school and got my degrees, and now I work in aerospace, although I don't write software for airplanes specifically. The income increase was substantial.

I can't exactly say I have a stellar past, but who does? It sounds like your life is in order now; if you can perform and have the credentials, nobody cares about your past, unless it involves felonies.

I don't know what to tell you about the boredom problem, other than it sounds like you don't have enough responsibility at your current position. Ask for more. ;) There will always be mundane things you have to do, no matter what the job is.

Part of the reason that your past was troubled is that it was exciting. That's the tradeoff; you exchange trouble for stability, and get a certain amount of boredom (but hopefully more happiness) in the bargain.

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Thanks for your reply, feeling a lot better. I appreciate both the field related response and your addressing other concerns of mine personally that were bothering me but not directly asked. :) –  Orbit Mar 25 '11 at 18:33
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Your best bet might be with small companies that work in the field you're interested in. Look around in your area to see if there are any small companies that do aerospace contract work. It will help if you're qualified to take a job that they're looking to fill right now, then you can work on moving into different roles once you're in. I took a job as an electronics tech. when I only had an Associates degree, and that turned into my first full-time programming job. They had me write software for instruments that went everywhere from nuclear power plants to the International Space Station, so you can go pretty far even from modest beginnings.

I do recommend that you go back to school once you're able. This is a global market and the talent pool keeps growing. A lot of bigger companies are reluctant to hire people without a 4-year degree of some kind, and some won't even look at your resume. (Of course, some people might not want to work for a company like that...)

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Thanks for the great idea! I'll be looking around for smaller companies like that, had really only been thinking about the giants and not considering smaller firms contracting, and appreciate the advice about school also. I am quite inspired by your contribution, and your response gets me to speculate about someday having a smaller contract firm. –  Orbit Mar 25 '11 at 18:38
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I also went back to school in my early 30s and got my degree. It's a struggle while you're doing it, but well worth the time and effort if you can swing it. And it does open up a whole array of job opportunities that weren't there before, especially when economic times are tougher and there are more resumes per job opening.

In my case, my employer at the time was willing to work with my schedule and I was able to take night and weekend classes while still working full time. By my third and final year, I switched to going to school full time during the day and working nights. If you're interested in pursuing education, talk to your current employer and see if they will be willing to work around your class schedule. Most employers will at least do that, even if they don't offer tuition reimbursement.

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I currently work as a software engineer at an aerospace company, in their ISR systems division.

Not having an engineering degree is problematic to enter this industry, both from the defense side and the commercial aerospace side. Most of the people here are engineers and have engineering degrees, including software developers like myself. I'm not sure why this is, perhaps it has to do with AS and ISO certification or maybe it's just culture.

Every job I applied for after graduation required a degree. There were no "or equivalent experience" clauses in very many of the job posting. Even the internship and co-op postings usually require the applicant to be "enrolled in a BS or MS degree program". That even closes the door on temporary opportunities, if you aren't actively pursuing a degree.

An option might be to work on software, such as your design suite/test simulator, on your own and try to pitch it to companies that you would be interested in to join on as a contractor or consultant to evolve it into something that aids their specific mission or goals. Once in, try to go for a contract-to-full-time position. It might work, but then again, it might not.

The only other option would be to go back to school and study engineering or computer science. You say that you're well-read on your own, so it might not be too difficult to get a degree from a university.

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If you are self-taught, but can demonstrate with practical examples that you are done enough s/w development work that directly/indirectly corresponds to avionics software system activities, I think it will be okay. Most of the graduates just have a degree instead of a bulk of practical experience.

I also think that self-taught is useful as you get more flexibility in trying and getting things done; things that you would like to do for your career. Universities don't necessarily give you the chance to do that, not all the time. May be you can share a bit more of your self-taught and self-achieved projects so that we can provide better suggestions.

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